DFHour #20: Shenzhou-12 Taikonauts Return, Launch Updates, and a Bunch More!



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The Dongfang Hour
The Dongfang Hour
Your Weekly China Space Industry Summary, with a touch of eccentricity and some attempts at humor. By Blaine Curcio and Jean Deville, and with editing by Orbital Gateway Consulting Analyst Aurélie Gillet.

What's up in Chinese Space this Week?
The Week in Launch
Four launch updates this week. First, on September 12 Space Transportation completed the third launch of its smallest suborbital rocket, Tianxing-1. Little is known on the launch, but it very likely served as a high Mach number testbed for a given instrument payload. The company has expressed interest in developing Earth-to-Earth space transportation and space tourism business, and aims to have a price of RMB 5 million per flight for the Tianxing-1 (~US$800K). During the week, Space Transportation also completed a Series A+ funding round of RMB 100+ million, just ~6 weeks after a 300M RMB in a Series A round.
Secondly, the launch company iSpace and the Daxing Dist​​rict Government (Beijing) held a ceremony to commemorate iSpace joining the Daxing Commercial Aerospace Industrial Base. Once completed, the new iSpace facility will include an assembly plant, tank welding plant, comprehensive simulation test center, and a host of other infrastructure related to the company’s Hyperbola-2 rocket (a reusable liquid methalox rocket that aims to have a first launch in ~2022). As discussed in the Beijing Deep-Dive, there is a Chinese launch cluster in Daxing District, aka the “Rocket Street” (火箭街) due to the high concentration of launch companies.
Thirdly, this week saw recently-founded commercial launch company oSpace announce the creation of a new subsidiary in Xi’an, a city with abundant launch industry talent and technological knowhow. The subsidiary will focus on developing rocket engines, focusing on liquid propulsion.
Lastly, TiSpace‘s suborbital rocket Hapith I failed to launch after a fire started during ignition on September 16. This was the third failed launch attempt of the rocket, the first attempt being delayed by unfavourable weather conditions and the second failing due to technical difficulties. The Taiwanese company had secured a contract with the Whalers Way Orbital Launch Complex in August, after encountering difficulties launching from Taiwan.
Failed ignition of TiSpace's Hapith I rocket
Failed ignition of TiSpace's Hapith I rocket
The Week in Satellite Applications
This week, APT Satcom has conducted a mobile satcom test using a vehicle-mounted phased-array antenna as well as the APSTAR 6D satellite, reaching 100Mbps+ bandwidth under normal conditions, and can reach up to 220Mbps+. This is a significant milestone for the company, which is one of the few developing mobile satcom technology. Another such company is Geely, which performed a satellite Internet + mobile ground network integration demonstration test in late August as noted in the DFH Newsletter#17.
The Week in Satellite Manufacturing
Satellite manufacturer Smart Satellite signed a cooperation agreement with CASIC. The company also published an article (in English, on LinkedIn) that noted its SmartSat-X1 and SmartSat-X2 had entered AIT testing phase, and would be launched in 2022. The article also highlighted Smart Satellite’s current and hoped future experience in SAR technology, noting that “Smart Satellite’s goal is to provide SAR remote sensing turnkey solution, which is highly customizable base on customers’ requirements. At this stage, the company focuses on the design, development, and production of the SAR payloads and SAR satellite platforms, which are cost-efficient, multi-purpose, and fast-deployable”. In short, a big emphasis on SAR.
The Week in China’s Space Program
After 3 months in orbit, the first crewed mission to the CSS, Shenzhou 12, composed of Nie Haisheng, Tang Hongbo and Liu Boming returned safely to Earth on September 17, marking a significant milestone in the construction of the CSS. The process took place in several steps. On September 15, the crew left the living quarters of the Tianhe-1 core module to enter the Shenzhou spacecraft. It is worth noting that before de-orbiting, the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft performed rendez-vous with the radial docking port - because the Shenzhou-13 mission will have to dock in this manner (radially, rather than axially). After that, Shenzhou separated itself from its orbital module, fired its engines to slow itself down and deorbit, and finally ejected the propulsion module so that only the capsule entered the atmosphere. For the first time, the landing took place at the Dongfeng landing site in the Gobi desert, situated ~1000km west of the previous Siziwang landing site in Inner Mongolia. Next step: launch of the Tianzhou 3 spacecraft from Wenchang on-board a LM7 to dock with the Tianhe-1, followed by a Shenzhou 13 mission in October which will last a total of 6 months. You can check out DFH episode 52 for more technical details!
Earlier this week, we got some additional juicy details on China’s Mars UAV prototype, which we mentioned also a couple weeks ago in DFH episode 50. Through the interview of the lead designer of the project Bian Chunjiang in the China Science Daily (中国科学报), we learnt several interesting pieces of information. The current Mars UAV project started in March 2019, 3 years after China had officially announced it’s Tianwen-1 Mars project. The idea behind the development of this Chinese Mars UAV prototype is to survey/acquire data on large surfaces of Mars. China’s future Mars UAV, which carries some spectral imaging payloads, hence contrasts with NASA’s Ingenuity, which has some navigation cameras but is really more of a demonstrator mission with no scientific payload. Lastly, in terms of technical characteristics, the most remarkable difference: the Chinese UAV charges its batteries by connecting itself to a rover on the ground, which acts like a power supply. This is a different solution to Ingenuity, which relies on solar panels to recharge its battery.
Nie Haisheng, Tang Hongbo and Liu Boming safely came back on Earth on September 17
Nie Haisheng, Tang Hongbo and Liu Boming safely came back on Earth on September 17
The Week in Policy & Events
Several events took place this week. During a visit to an army facility in Shaanxi Province this week, Chinese President Xi Jinping remarked on the importance of the space sector. His comments included thoughts on the importance of space traffic management, the need for China to upgrade launch facilities to accommodate more frequent launches, and the importance of space as a domain for international collaboration.
On September 19, the 2021 Wenchang International Aerospace Forum opened in Haikou. This year’s theme focuses on “accelerating the development of the satellite application industry and creating a strategic highland for space technology innovation”. Such a theme is in line with the recent policies released at the national and provincial level within the past ~18 months.
Lastly, Space Tech Expo Europe organised an excellent webinar on small launch vehicles in Europe (available on demand). Featuring Arianespace, Isar Aerospace, Rocket Factory Augsburg, and PLD Space, the webinar painted a positive future for European small launch vehicles, but also made clear that Europe is rather behind in launch compared to the US (and to some extent China), and that the launch business is uncertain, if not extremely high growth.
2021 Wenchang International Aerospace Forum
2021 Wenchang International Aerospace Forum
Other News of the Week
More news from Taiwan, positive this time. During a visit to the National Space Organization (NSPO) on 14 September, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen called for Taiwan to play a role in the global new space sector. We also learned that the NSPO is undergoing a restructuring to emphasize satellite payloads, and to make the most use of Taiwan’s competencies in semiconductors and precision manufacturing. There appears to be funding available for a domestic LEO satellite program that aims to help companies better-address demand from LEO broadband constellations.
Lastly, a very interesting interview with MinoSpace CEO Gao Enyu was published this week. In the interview, Gao talks about the value proposition of Chinese commercial space companies, the difference between state-owned enterprises and private firms, and China compared to the west. According to Gao, China is still a few years behind the west in commercial, having started around 10 years later (2015 compared to 2005), but that Chinese companies are catching up quickly. He also pointed out that commercial companies can play a role in reducing price and more effectively developing satellite applications.
This has been another episode of the Dongfang Hour China Aero/Space News(letter). If you’ve made it this far, we thank you for your kind attention, and look forward to seeing you next time! Until then, don’t forget to follow us on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn, or your local podcast source.
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